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Sugar is a dangerous drug. Overconsumption is associated with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, premature aging, inflammation, hormonal imbalance, depression, the list goes on. What’s most disconcerting? The devastating effects of sugar aren’t just connected to candy bars and sodas. Most of the sugars we consume are hidden in supposedly "healthy" foods like yogurt and granola. The World Health Organization just released a guideline stating that adults and children should consume only 6 teaspoons a day (in contrast to the average American’s 22-32 teaspoons per day). With much of our intake hidden in these supposedly "healthy" foods, it’s best to keep a sharp eye out. Watch out for these 6 foods that often contain lots of hidden sugars.
With much of our intake hidden in these supposedly "healthy" foods, it’s best to keep a sharp eye out. Photo credit: Shutterstock
1. Yogurt. Yogurt is a great, protein-packed way to start your morning, right? Not always. Most flavored yogurts are absolutely loaded with sugar—sometimes as much as 8 ounces of Coke—making that healthy breakfast a surefire way to skyrocket your insulin levels. If you want yogurt, buy unsweetened Greek yogurt (and don’t be afraid of fat). For balanced sweetness, toss in a few blueberries or drizzle on some raw honey or maple syrup. Put yourself in control over how much sugar is going into your body.
2. Cereal. (And packaged granola bars.) Let’s face it—without sugar, many cereals would taste like cardboard. Gluten-free and low-fat foods especially are loaded with sugar to make up for the lack of other essential flavor components. If you’re looking for a good cereal, look for one that has sugar (or one of its many iterations) low on the ingredients list. Even easier, look for a cereal with 8 grams or less per serving to keep morning blood sugar levels steady and always consume it with a good source of protein or fat to keep your insulin in check.
3. Orange juice. While there isn’t much added sugar in orange juice, the natural sugars from 3 or 4 oranges can add up quick. Eating a whole orange balances the sugars with fiber, providing a less stark insulin rise. However, when you drink orange juice, you’re getting thrice the sugar without the fiber of the whole fruit. While orange juice can be a great, healthy treat, having a big glass every morning isn’t much better in the sugar department than having a glass of Coke.
4. Condiments. From salad dressings to ketchup, the sugar in condiments can add up quick. It’s shocking how much sugar can be added to these seemingly innocuous sauces and spreads. Salad dressings can have upwards of 5 grams in one serving. Ketchup has a high quantity by nature, but oftentimes it contains high-fructose corn syrup, which is even worse. Look for an organic ketchup with a less refined sugar that is lower on the ingredients list and try making your own salad dressing at home out of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. With other condiments, be sure to take a quick glance at the nutrition label so you know what’s going in to your body.
5. Tomato sauce. Even savory items hide loads of sugar. Think tomato sauce is a safe bet? Think again. Many jarred sauces contain surprising quantities of sugar to bring out the sweetness of the tomatoes. From Prego’s to Bertolli’s, a serving can pack anywhere from 2 to 3 teaspoons of the sweet stuff. Try making a quick sauce at home with tomatoes, garlic, basil and olive oil. It’ll be much more satisfying, fresher and not loaded with hidden sweeteners.
6. Peanut butter. Say it ain’t so! Most mainstream peanut butters are loaded with added sugar. Why? Because the combination of peanut butter and sugar is delicious. It’s also important to watch out for hydrogenated oils in many peanut butters, so keep your eyes on the labels. Save yourself some stress and make your own nut butters at home. If you need a little sweetness, eat it on a peanut butter banana sandwich or drizzle it on some toast with a touch of honey.
To learn more about the hidden sugars present in healthy foods, check out That Sugar Film. Essentially a "Super Size Me" with sugar, the documentary follows a man as he consumes the amount of sugar an average Australian eats—160 grams or 40 teaspoons per day. But get this: he doesn’t live off of sodas and candy. He eats "healthy" foods, like dried fruit, low-fat yogurt, cereal and the like. It’s an eye-opening take on how dangerous sugars can be, even when wrapped in a healthy package—well worth a watch. Sugars are practically ubiquitous in our lives: keep your eyes open, educate yourself and know what’s going in to your own body.
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